Journalists and coders scrape online data to examine legislative performance at a Scrapthon hosted by Media Matters for Democracy and Code for Pakistan

Islamabad, 14 April 2018: Media Matters for Democracy and Code for Pakistan jointly organized an Open Data Scrapathon on the theme of “Accountability through Public Records” in Islamabad on Saturday.

Altogether around 20 journalists, coders, and journalism students from the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad participated in the event.

The participants scraped official public data from the websites of the national assembly and senate to review the performance of elected representatives.

Teams of three to five people were set up at the start of the scrapathon, with each team having a couple of coders and two to three journalists.

One team focused on scraping data about budget sessions of the national parliament to check how many elected representatives attended the all-important annual sessions. Another team looked at the topics discussed and member attendance of senate standing committee meetings. A third team tried to scrape all useful information from the national assembly website so it could be converted and analyzed later for newsworthy information.

The journalists who attended the session said they were extremely impressed by the way technology can help in their news reporting.

“I was surprised by the amount of useful government data that is already available online and can be used by journalists,” said Faiz Paracha, a broadcast journalist. “I would like to learn more about data processing and analysis for journalism in the future.”

Saeed Yousafzai, a journalist who works for a monthly magazine, said he would appreciate more practice and guidance in scraping so he could use it regularly for newsgathering.

Some coders appeared to add to their technical knowledge, too.

“I had never used Java for scraping information before,” Gul Zaib, a programmer who heads Code for Pakistan’s Chaklala civic innovation lab, said. “I actually learned something new today, which is great.”

Earlier, Waqas Naeem, a program manager at Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD), had briefed the participants about the work being done by MMfD.

Mr. Naeem said one of MMfD’s focus areas is the use of technology to address challenges within the news media. He said the scrapathon is an attempt to connect local journalists with the technology community so they can learn from each others’ skill sets and work together for better-quality reporting on issues of public importance.

Asim Ghaffar, the head of Code for Pakistan (CfP), briefed the participants about CfP’s initiatives including its volunteer-run civic innovation labs and its work with the government on civic technology fellowships.

Mr. Ghaffar also spoke in detail about open data and its importance towards building more transparent and accountable governments. He said if governance data is freely available to the public it will not only help citizens make informed decisions but also aid the government in more effective policy-making.

The participants decided to keep working together on the scraping solutions they had initiated during the scrapathon. MMfD has set up an online group to coordinate and facilitate the work of the participants for the future.